Alarm bells are ringing for Red Deer educators over comments that United Conservatives would freeze education funding until the provincial economy grows.
“We don’t believe education should be tied to the price of oil,” said Anne Marie Watson, chair of the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.
But if the next government makes this link, she added her school board will have to discuss how to manage in already space-cramped schools. “No one wants to see larger classrooms.”
Bev Manning, chair of the Red Deer Public School Board is also concerned about a possible budget freeze because “it’s actually a half-million dollar cutback from our budget because our costs increase each year.”
Manning believes Alberta governments should continue to fund for growth by giving school districts per-pupil grants for new students. They are now set at $6,680 per pupil, per school year.
Alberta school boards were unhappy with comments made by UCP education critic Mark Smith at an education panel in Edmonton on the weekend. Smith said if the UCP is elected as Alberta’s next government, schools shouldn’t expect to get more cash until the provincial economy turns around.
UCP officials could not be immediately reached to elaborate on Smith’s remarks.
Instead of getting a funding increase, school boards should look for more efficiencies — such as greater co-operation between boards and a simplifying some of the reports that are required by Alberta education, Smith told the panel.
Manning said she and other trustees are always lobbying political leaders for adequate educational funding to cover salary increases, inflationary costs, and additional teachers as the public district grows by 150 0r so new students each year.
“If the government said they were not going to fund for growth, that would be a critical cut to education,” Manning added.
Watson said if the UCP gets into power and imposes a funding freeze or cut, trustees would try to mitigate the effect on students as much as possible. A small government reduction might be manageable, if the district drew money from its reserves, but that is not sustainable in the long run, she added.
The NDP decried Smith’s position on educational funding, saying the UCP is effectively promising higher class sizes and fewer teachers and support systems for Alberta students.
“In 2015, Albertans rejected attempts from conservatives to not fund enrolment. By promising the same failed policies… it’s clear that Kenney and the UCP still don’t understand what our education system needs.”